Patchy rains helped some areas, others left dry, Landcorp’s Kelly says
Patchy rains have provided relief for some farming areas and left others without substantive moisture, says Chris Kelly, chief executive of state-owned Landcorp, New Zealand's biggest farmer.
The west of the North Island saw higher rainfall, with 15-40mm from Northland to Waitomo down through to Taranaki. The West Coast, which applied for drought status last week, received 20-40mm with more expected to come. The East Coast fared the worst, experiencing no substantial rains, MetService says.
"Where we've had rainfall of 20mm it's been a huge help but some areas have had as low as 2mm," Mr Kelly told BusinessDesk. "What we need now is steady rain, not too heavy or it will wash away the top soil, and a moderate temperature for the grass to grow."
Finance Minister Bill English says the impact of drought could erase $2 billion from gross domestic product, as milk production and pasture dry up and farmers send more livestock for processing. That is up from the government's estimate of $1 billion just a week ago. The impact could be multi-year as farmers have to rebuild herds and flocks.
Already the effects of prolonged dry weather have been felt in sales of Fonterra's dairy products through the GlobalDairyTrade platform, with prices jumping 10.4 percent in the last sale two weeks ago. The next auction is scheduled for March 19.
Predicted showers today and tomorrow are hoped to bring more relief although the weekend's rains may have been the heaviest for now.
"There will be a few showers sticking around, but for most of the country high pressure returns from midweek through to the end of the week and the weather will be pretty settled and dry," MetService acting communications meteorologist John Law says.
Rain has arrived in the first month of autumn and to be useful it needs to fall before temperatures begin to chill, Mr Kelly said.
A steady soil temperate of above 9 degrees Celsius and plenty of moisture is necessary for grass growth. "If the temperature drops and we have a cold snap, even with rain the grass won't grow."
Landcorp manages 135 properties and 1.5 million stock units, according to its website.
Phillip Duncan from privately owned forecaster Weatherwatch says weather patterns look promising for gradual easing, with improvements in each region rather than big low fronts of the kind that brought the weekend rain.
"In the next two to four weeks there will be showers popping up a lot more often," he says. "It's a positive change we're seeing, it's just taking a long time for the change to happen."
The highs that have dominated the weather system are forecast to ease in length and frequency. The distance between the past two highs was only 6500km, but that between the last high and the high coming in on Tuesday is 9000km.
"The greater the gap between highs, the greater chance for these rainmaking systems to come in," he says.
Georgina Griffiths, from NIWA, says the long-range forecast for March, April and May shows a return to normal weather patterns when the highs lose their grip, with a warm start to autumn.
"There should be some reasonably heavy rainfall across autumn, with rain becoming more regular as autumn progresses and there should be a return to normal rainfall patterns."
While the drought will affect the agricultural sector financially, the fine weather has led to buoyant consumer confidence which may offset the negative impact on the economy, according to Robin Clements of UBS.
Farmers who have reduced stock levels have led freezing works across the country to work overtime to cope with the influx.
"The end result may not be as dire as it appears," he says.